In 2010 there will be an estimated 239 million internet users in the United States, a 151.6% increase since 2000, making up nearly 78% of the entire population. Sixty-percent of all internet users are active on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. According to a survey of college aged internet users, 69% preferred Facebook, 38% preferred MySpace and 22% preferred YouTube.
As the use of the internet grows exponentially so does concern for the effects that excessive internet use may have on the psychosocial well-being of users. Some issues that have been linked to excessive internet use are loneliness and depression, which in turn have been linked to addictive or habitual use of the internet. However, some researchers have found that individuals who experience loneliness and depression are at a higher risk for excessive internet use, and other researchers suggest it is excessive use of the internet which increases the risk for loneliness and depression. One study indicated a cyclical effect in which loneliness and depression may lead to the excessive use of the internet, and that excessive use of the internet may reinforce feelings of loneliness and depression which were already present.
Individuals who experience loneliness may do so as a result of their feelings of social awkwardness or inadequacy which may cause them to withdraw from social settings that may alleviate their loneliness. Periods of loneliness may also lead to symptoms of depression. However, individuals who feel a moderate level of competence using the internet often find a type of social interaction on social networking sites like Facebook. One study indicated that individuals who felt inadequate socially but competent on a computer were at a higher risk for problems related to excessive internet use.
The question still remains, does Facebook, or other social networking sites cause or reinforce loneliness and depression? The answer is clearly yes, and no.
As the internet is made up of countless components so are social networking sites, such as Facebook. Entertainment applications in which users participate in an online situation in which they are growing farms, tending pets, shopping and engaging with virtual characters may be the root of the harmful effects often seen from excessive internet use. In one study it was found that excessive internet use, although it may inhibit other areas of one’s life, may only be harmful in situations in which the individual is engaged in the entertainment component of the internet, or social networking site. Further, the effect that excessive internet use has on an individual’s psychosocial well-being is likely related to any underlying psychological issues which may be present, such as depression. However, from the latest research it is suggested that loneliness is the overriding factor in the occurrence of excessive internet use be it on Facebook, or otherwise.
Ceyhan, A.A. & Ceyhan, E. (2008) Loneliness, depression, and computer self-efficacy as predictors of problematic internet use. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11(6), 699-772.
Kim, Junghyun, LaRose, R. & Peng, W. (2009) Loneliness as the cause and the effect of problematic internet use: The relationship between internet use and psychosocial well-being. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12 (4), 2009, 451-455.
Oczan, N.K., Buzlu, S. (2007) Internet use and its relation with psychosocial situation for a sample of university students. CyberPsychology, 10 (6), 767-772.